I’m running for Vice-Rector of International Relations at the University of Bergen!
The University of Bergen elects the Rector team every four years, and in 2013, I’m running for Vice-Rector for International Relations with Kuvvet Atakan as candidate for Rector, Vigdis Broch-Due for Pro-Rector and Gottfried Greve as Vice-Rector for Education. The election isn’t until April 2013, but we just launched our campaign yesterday with a blog, a Facebook page (of course), brochures in everyone’s inboxes (here are PDFs, in English and Norwegian) and an interview in the University of Bergen newspaper.
My first contact with Kuvvet Atakan was when I wrote to him earlier this semester to ask whether UiB had a strategy for ensuring that our graduates have sufficient skills in and understanding of ICTs for a digitized society. Kuvvet is currently the Vice-Rector for Education, so I figured he would be the one to know. He responded immediately, telling me that digital competencies aren’t yet thoroughly mapped or integrated into university curriculums, here or at other Norwegian universities, but that there was a clear need for a stronger focus on digital competencies and that this was a natural next step for the DigUiB project he’s been leading for the last couple of years, which has focused on digitization of education. Within a few weeks, Kuvvet and I had organised a brainstorming session with teachers and students from all over the university and hard on the heels of that we held a half-day seminar on the topic. I only blogged it briefly, I’m afraid, but På Høyden wrote about it, and so did Knut Melvær, a fellow scholarly blogger from the Humanities Faculty at UiB.
One of our main issues in our campaign for the Rectorate, and one that I’m obviously keen on, is digitization in the university, both as an aid in education (digital exams and electronic versions of most of readings are no-brainers but take work and dedication to implement; videos of lectures, or bits of lectures, can in many cases allow more time for discussion in f2f classes) and in research, where we need stronger digital infrastructure and support. Having just come out of the Digitutvalg‘s discussions (our report will be published in January) I’m also eager to work out how we can make sure that teachers and students at the university have enough knowledge about technology to use it in ways that make sense in their own disciplines. Lawyers, doctors, economists and historians all need to understand and be able to use and make decisions about technology today, but their needs are different.
Internationalization will be my specific domain if we’re elected, and as a team, international relations are something we care deeply about. Kuvvet Atakan came to Norway from Turkey as a student in the 80s, Vigdis Broch-Due and Gottfried Greve have worked in universities in Britain and the USA as well as in other countries, Vigdis is a social-anthropologist who has done extensive fieldwork in Kenya for many years, and we are all involved in international teaching programs and of course international research networks in our disciplines. Actually, in this team, I almost feel less international than average, which is an unusual feeling for this Aussie-Norwegian girl!
The University of Bergen is the most international university in Norway. 20% of our students spend a semester abroad, 30% of our PhD candidates are from other countries, and 15-20% of our academic staff and about 12-15% of our students are from abroad. This diversity is incredibly enriching. Not only does it help researchers and students develop strong international networks, it also helps us to learn more about how teaching and research are done elsewhere, which lets us calibrate and improve our own work. It’s not always easy to come to Bergen as a foreigner, though, and it’s not as easy as we’d like for our own students and researchers to go abroad on exchanges and sabbaticals, either, and these are issues we feel strongly about and will work hard to improve. We want to take really good care of our international colleagues and students here in Bergen, and we want to strengthen our international relations outwardly. Ensuring that we are strong internationally means that we can bring further value to our local, regional and national community as well.
Open, transparent processes in university leadership and organisation is another important issue for us. Something I know frustrates a lot of people around the university is the lack of clarity in where the money goes, how much money there really is, and how to influence the decision-making processes. A lot of us really don’t know how the university budget works, and it’s not easy for most of us to find the answers. An example is the question of the dekningsbidrag, an overhead taken from externally funded projects and passed on to the University centrally to cover general costs. Sometimes this overhead is higher than that the external funders will approve, so from the individual researcher’s and maybe department’s point of view it looks as if you lose money (at a department level) by gaining an externally funded project. However, the department gets money back as RBO (resultatbasert overføring – result-based transfers), for instance when a project’s PhD candidate defends her dissertation, when researchers hired by the project publish articles, and sometimes simply for having an externally funded project. But because this money comes later, it’s not as visible and most of us are not very clear on how much money it really is, either. Also, the overhead isn’t all kept by the University centrally, most is passed on to the faculties, which then decide how it should be spent. But obviously all this is complicated, and although the budgets and all documents from board meetings at all levels are public today, and most are published on the UiB webside, they are not easy to find and they are not easy to read. Similarly, there are ways in which employees and students and research groups (for instance) can influence the budget, but you have to know when and how.
We want to find ways of making these processes transparent and understandable to people. You shouldn’t have to be an accountant to be able to understand how the budget works. So we want to create a website that pulls in the numbers and the data and provides comprehensible visualisations and explanations of how the numbers add up and where the money goes. We also want to gather information about decision making processes so that it is easier for people to see how and when they can influence these processes. Hopefully we can make sure the budgets and other numerical data is not only published as a PDF but also in a machine-readable open format that can both be used for our own visualisations and can be harvested and remixed by others, for instance by journalists. UiB already has class schedules and syllabi in open data formats, and there’s certainly room for more.
There are of course many other issues, in particular about continuing to integrate research and teaching and continuing to strive for the highest quality in these, and we will continue to develop and refine our platform, releasing a more detailed platform description in early 2013.
But these issues are my personal darlings, and I’m excited to be working with a team of people who agree that they are important.